Mercedes Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton took a lights-to-flag victory in the Qatar Grand Prix, as main rival Max Verstappen recovered to second and Fernando Alonso scored his first podium since 2014.
A five-place grid penalty for Verstappen for ignoring double-waved yellow flags on Saturday was announced just 90 minutes before the race, but it took just a few laps for the Dutchman to negate its impact.
As Hamilton kept the lead off the line, Verstappen gained two places immediately with a great launch, then picked up another at Turn 1 when Carlos Sainz chose to cover off Lando Norris on the outside and opened the door for Verstappen to get through.
The Red Bull man’s progress was slowed when Fernando Alonso chopped across at Turn 2, seemingly inadvertently as the Spaniard himself was lining up an ultimately successful move round the outside of second-placed Pierre Gasly.
With DRS enabled, Gasly ran well wide entering the final corner and was tardy on enabling his DRS, allowing Verstappen to get a fair superior run and snatch the position. The next lap, Verstappen breezed by Alonso in another main-straight DRS overtake that looked hardly more difficult.
By the time that had happened, Hamilton was already four seconds in the clear – and though Verstappen initially looked to be matching his pace, he ultimately began to drop away quite quickly. This was soon after Verstappen told his team he suspected minor front wing damage and had it confirmed by his race engineer.
By the time Verstappen came in to swap from mediums to hards on lap 17, Hamilton was already over nine seconds in the clear – and the seven-time champion was called into the pits the following lap, somewhat despite his wishes, to retain the advantage.
The status quo was preserved over their respective second stints, with Verstappen slightly gaining on Hamilton early on but dropping back to nine seconds off by the time he swapped back to mediums with 16 laps to go – with Hamilton again following suit the next lap.
And the next stint was much the same, before the virtual safety car came out with two laps to go, ballooning the gap as Verstappen took the opportunity to pit for fresh softs.
The race then went green just in time for Verstappen to set a new fastest lap of the race, securing the bonus point and ensuring he will head into the final two races with eight points in hand over Hamilton.
With no real battle for victory to speak of, the top two teams’ second cars looked set to provide the sparks instead, as Perez and Bottas both scythed their way through the field, the latter recovering from a poor start that dropped him outside the points.
But while Perez made progress early on whereas Bottas had to wait for Lance Stroll to clear Yuki Tsunoda to escape a mini-’DRS train’, it was Bottas who ultimately inherited third soon after Perez made his first stop.
Yet running long ultimately backfired for the Finn, with a 34th race lap on his starting set of mediums seeming to prove a lap to long as Bottas suffer a front left puncture, subsequently dragging his front wing on the ground for much of the lap as he trudged back to the pits.
Fernando Alonso's view of that Valtteri Bottas puncture… 😲✨#QatarGP 🇶🇦 #F1 pic.twitter.com/WJPrW63l4Q
— Formula 1 (@F1) November 21, 2021
Though he rejoined and even pulled off an overtake on Daniel Ricciardo for 11th, Bottas was ultimately ordered to retire the car with seven laps left to run.
With Bottas out of the picture, Perez was again promoted to a third place, having overtaken Alonso around Turn 1 after a spirited defence from the Alpine man.
Yet Red Bull committed him to a two-stop, setting him on a mission to fight back through to the podium on mediums – with the one-stopping Alonso again holding the position.
As Perez chased after Alonso once more, the two Williams cars of Latifi and George Russell both developed front-left punctures after running their sets of hard tyres for more than 30 laps.
Tyre woe for several drivers as Russell, Norris and Latifi all reports problems
A crazy finish to this one with three laps to go in Qatar 😲#QatarGP 🇶🇦 #F1 pic.twitter.com/JZTK13Ik7k
— Formula 1 (@F1) November 21, 2021
Yet the late virtual safety car gave Alonso some breathing room, and he held on 34-lap-old hards in the end, heading Perez by three seconds to score his first podium since the 2014 Hungarian Grand Prix.
Esteban Ocon, a fellow one-stopper, made it two Alpine cars in the top five, with Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll and the Ferraris of Sainz and Charles Leclerc – who had a cracked chassis replaced overnight – likewise benefitting from the same strategy to complete the top eight.
McLaren’s Lando Norris was forced to bail out of a one-stop strategy with seven laps to go when he had a puncture and had to settle for ninth, his team scoring just two points on the day and suffering another blow in its fight for Ferrari.
The top-10 was completed by the one-stopping Aston Martin of Sebastian Vettel, who had originally dropped out of the points by getting stuck behind Bottas and then run out wide at Turn 1.
Alpine’s main constructors’ standings rival AlphaTauri converted a front-row start into no points, as both Gasly and Tsunoda began dropping down the order early on and both stopped early, locking them into two-stops that neither could benefit from.
Gasly had emerged right behind Vettel after his second stop, but couldn’t overtake and ultimately ended the race six seconds back, hinting at an underlying lack of pace in the AT02 in race trim.
|Pos||Name||Car||Laps||Laps Led||Total Time||Fastest Lap||Pitstops||Pts|
|2||Max Verstappen||Red Bull-Honda||57||0||+25.743s||1m23.196s||3||19|
|4||Sergio Pérez||Red Bull-Honda||57||0||+1m02.306s||1m25.613s||2||12|
|6||Lance Stroll||Aston Martin-Mercedes||57||0||+1m21.274s||1m27.356s||1||8|
|9||Lando Norris||McLaren-Mercedes||56||0||+1 lap||1m25.746s||2||2|
|10||Sebastian Vettel||Aston Martin-Mercedes||56||0||+1 lap||1m26.434s||1||1|
|11||Pierre Gasly||AlphaTauri-Honda||56||0||+1 lap||1m27.019s||2||0|
|12||Daniel Ricciardo||McLaren-Mercedes||56||0||+1 lap||1m27.198s||1||0|
|13||Yuki Tsunoda||AlphaTauri-Honda||56||0||+1 lap||1m27.043s||2||0|
|14||Kimi Räikkönen||Alfa Romeo-Ferrari||56||0||+1 lap||1m26.358s||2||0|
|15||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo-Ferrari||56||0||+1 lap||1m27.823s||2||0|
|16||Mick Schumacher||Haas-Ferrari||56||0||+1 lap||1m28.412s||1||0|
|17||George Russell||Williams-Mercedes||54||0||+3 laps||1m25.768s||2||0|
|18||Nikita Mazepin||Haas-Ferrari||54||0||+3 laps||1m27.34s||1||0|